All eyes, when not on Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine, are on Washington where the annual AIPAC conference is under way. Much will be discussed about the bond between Israel and the United States, the future of the peace process and where Iranian nuclear negotiations are going.
Yet, just as AIPAC winds up, a very interesting Congressional hearing is scheduled to take place. The Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing innocuously entitled “Threats to Israel: Terror Funding and Trade Boycotts.”
Part of the hearing is dedicated to the subject of US citizens killed and wounded by Palestinian terrorists. This will be the first time such a subject has been put before a Congressional committee. And it could not have come too soon.
Unbeknownst to most American citizens, from the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and through 2006, there were approximately 72 Palestinian terror attacks that included American casualties: 54 US citizens were killed and 85 wounded. Of the dozens – if not hundreds – of Palestinian terrorists directly involved in planning, funding and carrying out these attacks, not a single one has faced American justice.
The Office for Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OJVOT), specifically set up in 2005 to give the Department of Justice (DoJ) a focus on these cases, has accomplished nothing. The same may be said of the FBI, which has the operational responsibility for these files; the same goes for the National Security Division of the DoJ as it has prosecutorial responsibility in these cases, and of course the State Department and its ambassadors, who have done nothing to advance criminal prosecutions of Palestinian terrorists.
To date, there has not been a single indictment, extradition, prosecution, or arrest of a Palestinian terrorist in any of the relevant cases. During the same period of time, Israel has sent several dozen Jewish criminals to the US for prosecution.
The DoJ was prodded in 2012 with a Congressional letter signed by 52 Congressmen and a parallel letter from parents of US terror victims. The attorney general answered the latter, while one of his subordinates responded to the former. In both cases, the responses were to the effect that the terror cases are extremely important; the truth is that DoJ continues to do nothing to promote successful prosecutions other than to take junkets to the beaches of Tel Aviv.
The situation has reached the absurd ,with the planner of the Sbarro bombing, in which several American citizens were killed, frequently and unrepentantly describing her role in planning and executing the attack in numerous YouTube videos. This woman lives in Amman, Jordan, free from any fear of US officials knocking on her door or interrupting her radio talk-show. If US law enforcement does not have the tools to catch terrorists, then it is the task of the attorney general to come to Congress and ask for additional powers. If Israel is not playing ball on evidence and/or terrorist access, then it is the job of the secretary of state to put the subject before the Israeli leadership.
Over two presidents, five attorney generals and four secretaries of state, no such thing has ever been done. For all of the lip service, trips to the region, and federal tools in play, our cases are simply irrelevant in the eyes of DoJ, State and the White House. It has only been Congress that has consistently gone to bat for US terror victims, as evidenced by Wednesday’s planned hearing.
Besides the complete failure of US law enforcement in prosecuting a single Palestinian terrorist, the US has actively attempted to harm American citizens’ interests in civil cases brought in US federal courts. In 2008, a group of approximately 20 terror victims held a very contentious four-hour meeting with John Bellinger of the State Department, after the latter planned to file a Statement of Interest in a federal trial in favor of the PLO and against an American woman whose husband had been gunned down by a PLO terrorist. Only after our remonstrations and supportive letters from the House and Senate did State back down from its plan, and the plaintiff in question was able to successfully settle her case.
In another, pending, case, critical evidence unintentionally provided by the Palestinian Authority (PA) lawyers to plaintiffs was never picked up by any US governmental body, though the material in question described the individuals involved in the death and wounding of several US teens in a pizzeria bombing in Karnei Shomron. The US, as a major funding body for the PA, should be perfectly positioned to ask for the information prepared by the PA. No such request was ever put forth by any relevant office.
Another complete failure related to attacks on US citizens by Palestinian terrorists is the purported “Rewards for Justice” program run by State. There is nowhere outside of Iraq where more Americans have been attacked than in Israel, but not a penny has ever been paid for information relating to the dozens of cases here. Immediately after the attack in which my son and I were wounded, we were listed on the “Rewards” site. I later provided information on the individuals involved in our attack. As State and the FBI did nothing with the information, we were never considered for a reward.
I know of a similar case where accurate information was given regarding the location of a Palestinian terrorist who had knifed and murdered an American citizen. As the US did nothing with the information, this same “tipster” was told that his information had not been “actionable” and he also received nothing. The terrorist in the latter case was allowed to move from the Church of Nativity standoff with the IDF to Europe, where he is today.
A point that I hope will be noted in this week’s hearing is that our injuries as well as those of other Americans were the outcome of the actions of active members of the PA intelligence services. The bomb, the bomber, the dispatcher, Marwan Barghouti and others described in detailed military indictments all have direct links to the PA, the same PA that the US is funding to the tune of several hundred million dollars per year.
The head of the cell gave an interview to The New York Times; he did not deny his role in our attack. Another player implicated in our attack is the PA minister charged with coordinating activities with Israel! One might wonder why the US would have any laws regarding terror attacks against American citizens outside of the United States. Such laws were enacted in the early 1990s when the US found that it did not have the legal tools to deal with the murder of Leon Klinghoffer by PFLP terrorists aboard the Achille Lauro. Yet, the results today are the same as in the late 1980s: no prosecutorial success.
I know that much of the material that I sent to the FBI to help in our case was thrown out; as of 2010, our file was empty, though I had over the previous six years sent tens of pages of Israeli indictments, newspaper articles and relevant information. I also know that the FBI was caught flat-footed by the 2011 release of terrorists for the soldier Gilad Schalit: they could not figure out the names of those released or did not have complete identify numbers. It was only a letter from one of our lawyers that clarified to the FBI who had been released.
From July 2008, three-and-a-half years before the release, I lobbied to have the US put a veto on the release of terrorists who had been shown to be connected to the death and injury of US citizens. The director of OJVOT wrote me in July of that year that the subject had been relayed to the highest levels of government, and I know that a list of such terrorists was prepared. It was never given to Israel, and the US made no real protest that people who harmed Americans – including several from our attack alone – went free.
None of the terrorists released for Schalit has ever been prosecuted by the US government, though I have sent the FBI video footage of one of the women escorts describing in detail how she brought the bomber to King George Street, where my son and I were wounded. Even my request to US officials that the US demand that Palestinian terrorists with American blood on their hands not receive salaries which include US monies fell on deaf ears in Washington.
It is my hope that this week’s subcommittee meeting will be the first step in righting a serious wrong, that we may look forward to the US prosecuting Palestinian terrorists as well as standing by the side of US terror victims.
Aggressive prosecution of Palestinian terrorists will send the PA two important messages: if you wish to become a state, you will have to be free of terrorists within your ranks. Also, by standing with its citizens and enforcing the law, the US will put terrorists on notice that there is a price to pay for harming an American anywhere in the world.
The author is a technical consultant living in Jerusalem.